Spock notes little progress between Kirk and McCoy. He may need to intervene soon, as a concerned First Officer.

The Captain is naturally protective of his privacy, not unlike Doctor McCoy. In the past, the Vulcan has observed that McCoy cornered Jim if the man grew despondent over the death of a fellow officer or that the doctor encouraged the Captain to maintain personal connections with his crew—small observations, really, of behavior that directly benefited Jim's mental health. It was after careful study of McCoy's interaction with Kirk, and Spock's conclusions, he decided to accept the invitation of a chess game with the Captain. The end-result proved satisfactory, not only by increasing the human's delight but also for Spock. Kirk is, as it turns out, a worthy, if somewhat overly cheerful opponent at chess.

Spock comprehends that he is not apt at interpreting human social needs, much less nurturing them; yet since that first successful attempt, he tries to follow Leonard McCoy's example by offering a solid presence when Jim Kirk might have need of companionship. Of course any other similar benevolent or well-intentioned acts on Spock's behalf are part of a First Officer's responsibilities. Should the day come when Spock is inclined to help his Captain without a thought for duty, well, he admits that it would not be entirely unprecedented.

The thought that two friends, as Spock had assumed accurately defined McCoy and Kirk's relationship, could turn so easily from one another is baffling. He believes that Leonard McCoy would not harm Jim needlessly; thus it is only logical that the trouble between the two humans, sparked by Khan's arrival, must be born of a grave need of McCoy's. Whether or not Jim can accept this need remains in question.

Spock is not necessarily an impatient person—in particular, his patience has proven ample in the past—but a rift among the senior officers aboard this vessel cannot continue. (How this applies to Spock and McCoy, he may contemplate on later.) Kirk's command of the Enterprise does not show the effects of his personal turmoil but Spock suspects if Doctor McCoy is relieved of his position, not even the stalwart efforts of a Vulcan will negate the repercussions.

Spock's personal computer beeps softly, drawing his attention. Doctor McCoy has left his quarters and is prowling the ship. Rather than continuing to track the man's activity, Spock shuts down the security feed. He will allow the two humans more time to resolve what has driven them apart, for they must have the capacity to see reason, even if that capacity is limited.

In the First Officer's quarters, Spock prepares to rest then lies down on his bed. Instead of meditating, however, the Vulcan finds himself outlining a plan of how two stubborn persons might be reunited should circumstances remain unchanged by the next beta shift.

John half-expects Captain Kirk to have him arrested for the sabotage of the SS Botany Bay. That no one mentions the event disturbs him more than imagining a ship-wide denouncement of John's final act of betrayal. Yet Jim does not seek John out, not after the ship rocks with an aftershock of the blast from the sleeper ship and the entire crew stirs like a hornet's nest, envisioning imminent doom. Jim never calls down to Sickbay where Doctor McCoy is calming his startled doctors and nurses to ask "What the fuck did you do, Bones?" Jim says nothing of it at all.

And John feels bad that he might have gotten away with it. After all, Jim wanted a promise that he would ask first, act later—but John saw an opportunity to eliminate the rest of their troubles and he took it, knowing he might destroy the remaining trust Jim had in his Bones as completely as John destroyed the remnants of the Eugenics War.

I'm a fool twice over, John decides as he swallows a shot of Saurian brandy, having cracked open a fresh bottle to celebrate his last night as CMO of the Enterprise.

But Security never comes and the hour grows late.

John tucks away his glass and the nearly full bottle of liquor, and unsuccessfully tries to smooth out the wrinkles in his blue uniform. Then he goes in search of the Captain.

Jim would be hard to find if John didn't have a 24th chromosome. Kirk is in a quiet, nearly secluded area of the gymnasium, resolutely boxing with the Chief of Security, Samuel Giotto. Giotto ignores John's careful, noisy approach but when Jim glances up between punches to look, Giotto lands a blow hard enough to send Kirk stumbling back across the mat.

Giotto straightens, strips off his gloves and advises as he helps the Captain to his feet, "If you worry about the man who hasn't reached you, the one you're fighting will kill you first."

John sees too much of himself in Giotto and he can't help but approve that Jim trains with the man. Hand-to-hand combat is as necessary a skill for an officer in space as for an officer on the ground.

Breathing hard, Jim grunts his thanks to Giotto and stalks toward a punching bag across the room, obviously intent on continuing to damage his knuckles until they bleed inside his gloves.

John feels certain that he is the reason Jim wants to beat the shit out of something.

He tenses, eyes still trained on Kirk, when Giotto walks up to him. Samuel is a man of little words. He tells John, "Take these. You'll need them" and shoves a pair of boxing gloves into the doctor's chest before heading in the direction of the men's locker room.

Leonard McCoy is reputed to be a healer, not a fighter but that doesn't mean McCoy can't fight when he has to. Giotto might have record of such a fact but undoubtedly cares less one way or the other. McCoy is the root of a problem with Kirk and apparently Giotto expects McCoy to fix it.

John strips off his shirt and puts on the gloves.

Jim says nothing when John stills the swaying punching bag and moves between it and Kirk. John waits a few seconds longer then tells the young man eyeing him, "Hittin' never solves what's in here." He taps his chest with a glove. "But it sure as hell works for everything else."

In a lightning-fast move, he punctuates his statement by slamming a fist into Jim's exposed side, knocking the man backwards several feet. Jim catches himself from falling and gapes at John, stunned.

"What the—Bones?"

He circles Jim. "C'mon, Jim. I know you want to hit back. So do it."

Jim closes his mouth, expression tightening, and takes a defensive stance. "Don't tempt me."

John laughs. "Fuck but you're dumb, kid." And that pushes the right button.

Kirk comes at him, furious, and John's so damned relieved that he only dodges the first wild swing of a fist but lets the second swing connect with his jaw. He shakes it off, cracks his jaw, and dives into the fight again.

Jim is rage personified; he attacks at random angles and John parries all the blows, letting the kid sweat out his pent-up emotion.

Eventually Jim has to pull back and he bends at the waist, gloves braced on his legs, panting. "Shit—why can't—I hit you?"

John rolls his shoulders. "You have. You are."

Jim's head comes up. He glares at John. "You're playing with me!"

"No," he responds evenly, "I'm givin' you a chance." John motions for Kirk to stand up. "Again. Let's go."

Kirk is never one to back down from a challenge. This time John shifts out of the way of two kicks, enough to infuriate his opponent. Then he stops protecting himself. Jim's well-aimed blows land on his face, his ribs, anywhere they can. A kidney shot whitens John's vision for about two seconds before he recovers.

At some point, Jim delivers a roundhouse kick that sprawls John on his back. John does not get back on his feet; he simply lies there and stares at the high ceiling, knowing that he will let Jim hurt him even when he's down like this. Except John can hear Jim several feet away, feels the man's eyes on him.

The air smells strongly of sweat and a hint of blood. John's lip had split open earlier from a left hook but it has healed already, leaving only the taste of copper in his mouth.

He asks, "Can you finish it?"

Jim drags in a breath. "Will you get up?"

John turns his head in Kirk's direction, eyes fixed overhead. "I will if that's what you want. Do you want me to, Jim?"

Jim stays silent for a minute then answers, voice tired, "No."

And just like that, John knows, they are on even ground again. He sits up and takes off his gloves. Jim drops down beside John, resting his elbows on his knees and folds his arms, hands still gloved.

Jim is the one with all the decisions, who tells John to stay or go. John waits on Jim to lay out his future.

"Ship's gone," says Kirk, staring at the punching bag in the corner. "Khan. Khan's followers. Just like that, Bones."

"I reckon so" is his soft reply.

Jim looks at him then, eyes vividly blue. "Is there anything I need to know?"

"No," John says, "nothing you need to know, Jim, except what's in Spock's report. He'll be thorough."

"Command might have something to say. They always do," Jim remarks, his last words bitter.

John shrugs. "So they lost something they didn't know they had. It'll pass."

He can hear Jim swallow, as close as they are to each other.

"I'm glad they didn't know, Bones. I couldn't make the call—"

Jim pauses and John interrupts pointedly, "You made the decision you had to, Captain."

Kirk finishes, admitting, "—but I wanted to burn them all."

John stands up. "This galaxy doesn't need a legacy like Khan's." Then he adds, "Sometimes these things work themselves out."

When John offers a hand, Jim accepts and allows John to pull him to his feet. John stares at Jim for a long moment before he sighs. "I'm sorry for everything, Jim—and for the way things are between us."

Admitting the truth has a strange impact on John. Something uncoils inside him, like a chain loosening, and he isn't certain if he has felt the sensation before now. The sudden freedom gives him the strength to rest his hand on Jim's shoulder.


"You deserve a friend who trusts you," John tells him earnestly.

Jim frees one of his hands from his gloves and pulls John's hand off his shoulder but squeezes it as he does so. He sounds apologetic as he says, "Shoulder hurts."

John realizes what an idiot he is and snaps to attention, narrowing his eyes. "You did land on it. Sit down," he orders, steering Kirk toward the chairs lining the back wall.

Jim digs in his heels. "I'm fine."

"I'm the doctor. You're fine when I say you're fine."

"Bones, you can't apologize, say heartfelt shit, and then pull rank!"

"That's exactly what I'm doing. Now sit—" John shoves Kirk into a chair, then points a finger at him. "—and stay. Where's the emergency medikit?" he asks, frowning as he looks around for it.

He pulls it off the wall in time to turn around and find Jim standing behind him with a defiant look.

John holds up the medikit. "Listen to me for once, Jim."

"I am, Bones," replies the man seriously. "I am listening, and I hear you. You're being my friend."

"Some friend," he growls. "The fight was a stupid idea. I should have known better."

Why is Jim grinning? "It was great, Bones. Though I would have liked it better if you hadn't let me beat you up."

John lifts his eyebrow. "Do I look beat up to you?"

Jim crosses his arms, wincing at the motion, but still pouting nonetheless. At John's expression, Kirk sighs and walks back to the chair to sit down. He says nothing while the kneeling doctor scans him for injuries and tests the movement of Kirk's injured shoulder.

But Jim is never one for keeping silent too long, John knows.

"You said I need a friend who trusts me. I think you do trust me."

"Why is that, Jim?" he asks evenly, turning Jim's face gently to scan the man's bruised jaw.

Jim waits until they make eye contact. "I think you could have hurt me if you wanted to." Flexing a hand, Jim rephrases, "Never mind. I know you could have. So if you don't trust me, Bones, why are you holding back?" Kirk looks at him intently, asking, "Why are you still here, taking this risk, when you don't have to?"

John answers without thinking, "I want to be wrong."

Jim seems to understand John's words better than John himself. He nods, says, "Then we'll prove you wrong."

John sits back on his heels. "We?"

Jim's smirk is familiar and discomforts John as much as it eases his tension. "Package deal," Jim tells him. "Me, the Enterprise." After a beat, with a hint of glee, "Mr. Spock."

John can't help but grin a little. "Now you're pushing it, Jim."

"I know my crew, Bones, and I know what my officers are capable of."

"Homicide? Death by Vulcan glare?"

"Shut up." Jim is smiling but that smile fades with their laughter. "Can you try?"

John looks away but nods. "Yeah. I'll try."

"Then we will be okay," Jim says fiercely, meaning it.

John finds himself, in that moment, believing Jim's prediction, too.

Four months later...

The planet is non-descript, this part of it in particular, if one discounts the angry natives trying to shoot, spear, or flatten the "devils from the sky" with large chunks of rock. The rock thrower is a giant of a man with ludicrously bulging muscles and a roar like a bear.

A loud boom, similar to the explosion of a small bomb, punctuates the frantic activity as a rock crashes perliously close the section of the stone wall behind which Jim's small entourage is hiding. John jerks his head up, distracted momentarily from splinting Geologist Fisher's arm. All four officers of the landing party are mostly unscathed (though John can't physically see two of them at the moment) and waiting desperately for Mr. Scott to fix the ship's transporter. (John is of the opinion that the transporter is possessed. There is no other explanation for such state-of-the-art technology to "have a bit o' a bug"—as Scotty might say—when it is needed most.)

He listens to the shrill war cries and grimaces. Apparently fair-haired men like Jim are not only rare among this race but are considered demons.

Jim's the devil all right, John grouses to himself.

John is still muttering his unconscious companion about "gentle tribal peoples, my ass" when the First Officer jumps over the wall and drops down beside John and Fisher, followed closely by Kirk. The Captain is dirty, shirt torn at the shoulder, and panting. Spock, on the other hand, is fairly immaculate for someone who just sprinted through a volley of arrows and rocks.

"Bones!" Jim shouts over the screeching of the natives. Then he leans across Spock to repeat "Bones!" like John is ignoring him.

"What?" he snaps, twisting around, yet careful not to dislodge Fisher's arm.

"Bones, can you...?" Jim's eyes widen and he indicates the big man on the other side of the wall.

John narrows his eyes. "Jim, I'm a doctor not a—"

Spock, the green-blooded bastard, doesn't let John finish. "It would not be unreasonable for you to aid us, Doctor McCoy."

BOOM! The wall shudders, sending down a spray of small chipped stones and dust. John scoots away from his patient and cautiously peers over the top. The bear-man is grappling with another big rock. Behind the man, half-naked people are preparing a bonfire. An enormous, can-cook-several-people-at-once bonfire.

"Shit," John mutters as he crouches down again.

Jim says impatiently, "See? A little help!"

John shows Spock how to keep Fisher comfortable. Fisher's head lolls onto Spock's shoulder, still oblivious to their danger, and the Vulcan looks perturbed. John bites his lower lip, trying to salvage his serious expression.

Then he sobers and looks at Jim. "Okay," John agrees, "but if I end up tied like a pig on a spit, I'm going to kick your ass."

Spock's sharply angled eyebrows indicate that he is having difficulty picturing how John could accomplish an ass-kicking while tied up.

Jim merely grins. "Go get 'em, Bones."

He grunts, thinking my life could be worse but feeling inexplicably pleased. Then John leaps over the wall and sets about being, as Nurse Chapel once said, "a doctor and a hero."

The End